Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to Have Hope in an Era Between No Longer and Not Yet

Photoshop manipulation of my photo of the ocean at York Maine combined with
a Common License photo of the NYC skyline taken by Ian Britten
CC Jean Stimmell

How to Have Hope in an Era Between No Longer and Not Yet 
According to a major new study1, the super rich are hiding at least 21 trillion in secret tax havens.  It’s hard to wrap one’s head around a figure that big.  Let’s just put it this way: 21 trillion is the equivalent to the entire size of the U.S. and Japanese economies combined.
Yes, the super rich fiddle – and self aggrandize – while Rome burns. And unless Mitt Romney proves himself innocent by releasing more of his tax returns, we have to suspect that he is himself, one of these super rich scofflaws.
Already many Americans have given up and no longer vote, feeling the system is rigged in favor of the rich and the powerful. If Mitt is elected, that will be another body blow to our belief that we live in a democracy based on fairness and equality.
The super rich and the corporations they control are driving a nail in our coffin in other ways, too, adding to the growing malaise and anxiety that is spreading silently across the land like toxic gas, paralyzing our ability to act.
Climate change is a prime example. The American people are finally becoming believers, joining the 99% of all scientists who have been trying to warn of the coming calamity all along.  Seeing is believing!
All we need to do is look around us. Most of the country is suffering severe drought; farmers are losing their crops; forest fires are torching hundreds of homes; almost daily the headlines blare news of unprecedented new damage. Worse yet, as Mark Bittman tells us, this is only the tip of the iceberg – and in this case, even the iceberg is melting. 2 
As Bill McKibben points out in a piece to be published in Rolling Stone on Friday, not only was May the warmest on record for the Northern Hemisphere, not only was it “the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average,” but it was also followed by a June in which some 3,200 heat records were broken in the United States.”
Bittman concludes, “The only sane people who don’t see this as a problem are those whose profitability depends on the status quo, people of money and power like Romney.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. For instance, a forthcoming book from Climate Central projects that the biggest cities in Florida, and a great deal of the Northeast coastline, including New York City, will be underwater by 2100 – to say nothing of what the rising ocean level will do to the rest of the world! 3
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Our backs are pinned against the wall by climate change now deemed irreversible. Good paying jobs are scarce as hens’ teeth. 40% of middle America’s wealth has disappeared with the recession. Each year we are being more marginalized and outspent by the rich and powerful.
What’s the average American to do?
So far, too many of us have stuck our heads in the sand to avoid dealing with this; we are overwhelmed and turned off.  And while it’s true that the time has passed to avoid calamitous effects, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.  But, the longer we wait, the worse it will become.
As a nation, we are like an obese, out-of-shape middle aged man who is already slowly falling apart, but who now has discovered a tumor growing bigger by the week; yet he won’t go to the doctor because he’s afraid it is terminal – and can’t face the prospect of finding out he is already a dead man walking.
If that individual did go to the doctor, he might find that, yes indeed, he does have cancer but it is still treatable with surgery and chemotherapy, coupled with healthful lifestyle changes.
So it is with us as a nation.
The American people are formidable when aroused from our normal, blissful slumber. Look how we mobilized ourselves to fight – one for all, all for one – against the existential threat of world domination by our enemies in WWII.  Everyone contributed to the effort, not only our soldiers overseas but every household across our nation. Even children collected scrap metal and other items for recycling.
 Rebecca Solnit has written about such extreme events:  “An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often we ourselves rise to the occasion. 4
We, as a nation, excel at handling emergencies after they happen, especially natural disasters: We, as Americans, always come together selflessly to help each other after every hurricane, tornado, forest fire, flood or other emergency.
What we must do now is broaden our horizon of concern to include all of us, everywhere on earth, including that fragile, swirling sphere we call earth, our ultimate support network and home. As we progress toward this goal and become more mindful, we will find that we can preempt many emergencies before they occur.
Facing up to the problems we face and taking positive action is empowering.   It makes us feel alive. More important it builds community and gives our life meaning.
On the other hand, continuing to be in denial about climate change and the rising tide of inequality is isolating and demoralizing: Deadening in the literal sense of the word, both to ourselves and our world.
xxx (884 words)
3 “Global Weirdness”
4 Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (New York: Viking, 2009), 10.
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